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Environmentally friendly even after death

Some Michigan cities open green burial sites — an option for Marquette?

October 3, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Imagine a grave site with a simple rock for a tombstone in an overgrown nature preserve filled with tall grasses, native wildflowers and hiking trails.

The deceased person buried in the grave was not embalmed and was placed in a wooden casket - without a vault.

This description may remind one of a burial done years ago, yet, it is something that's occurring at cemeteries in lower Michigan. It's called a "green" burial.

"It's becoming more and more popular in larger cities," said Mark Canale, owner of Canale-Tonella Funeral Home in Marquette. "There are some cemeteries that are being opened or sections being opened that allow for green burials."

Although there are no designated green burial sites in the Marquette area, Canale said he has had requests from customers and it is something funeral directors around the state are talking about.

"I think the increase of people wanting to be cremated is due largely to the cost of a traditional funeral," Canale said, adding that a funeral can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $8,000. "With a green burial as an option, you don't have to pay for a vault and upkeep of the cemetery is going to be a lot less."

An Ionia County site will be the state's first green cemetery. Green burials usually feature wilderness instead of mowed lawns and engraved rocks for grave stones. Coffins are made out of biodegradable wood or wicker, costing $1,000 or less.

Another environmentally friendly shift in green funerals is not using embalming fluids - used to temporarily preserve bodies for wakes and funerals. Typically, embalming fluids contain formaldehyde, which is not a natural substance.

However, Canale said the amount of fluids ending up in the ground is minimal and green burials would simply offer a different and cheaper option for people.

In addition, Canale said companies producing embalming fluids are looking into making it more natural.

In any case, there are a few social hurdles to clear before people can be buried more environmentally friendly in Marquette.

"The social tolerance of the city has to be such that it would be an interest to the community," said Karl Zueger, assistant city manager. "It's something that's new that maybe some community members would want and others flat wouldn't."

Park Cemetery Sexton Bill Malandrone jokingly said about green burials: "Good idea. Let's do it tomorrow. I don't have to mow anymore."

But in reality, Malandrone said he doesn't believe Marquette residents would welcome a green cemetery because a graveyard is a peaceful spot that should be maintained, he said.

"It's a good idea, but I just can't see that happening," he said.

Canale said people would take advantage of a green cemetery if the city decided to designate space for it.

"People are asking more about it," Canale said. "I think it would be worth a try."

For more information on green burials, go to



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